They say that the sea is always the calmest before the storm, but that couldn’t be more untrue for the young waterbender. The storm had passed, a wall of rising fire, and though it left destruction in its path greater than she had seen in all her years, now everything was calm. Strange, muffled, still and silent. The air was musky and heavy, sweat and humidity at fault for the rings of dark hair curled against her skin. The courtyard was in flames, and the pillars were scorched black. Her breath was hotter than the hair around her and it came in labored puffs as she knelt, one hand under the prince's head and the other damp, donned on his chest. Their surroundings were a dark swirl of the elegant reds of the palace walls and the murky purple of the sky, and the dark, hot skids on the pavement that still smoked. Azula remained in her place, chains clanking as she struggled, hissing a string of insults neither Katara nor Zuko bothered to listen to. The prince was conscious, but barely, eyes half lidded. All the while, he wore a knowing smile, thankful as the waterbender used her depleting energy to get him going again. Katara took her hand from the prince’s chest momentarily, and the growing wound hissed in response, causing him to cringe. Her expression curled into a frown as she dipped her hand back into the puddle of drain water, replacing it carefully to continue her task.
“Thank you,” Zuko started, warm smile still placed masterfully on tired lips. “For everything - for this.” His bright gaze angled downwards to her hand, and the murky water, which circled and then sunk into the skin it hovered above, red and unkind. A curled breath left him, looking back to her in her moment of silent as she contemplated. She really did remind him of his sister - if, perhaps, they had been raised elsewhere, with other people, away from it all … Strong willed and pushy, but loving and deep and self conscious. Her eyes spoke a thousand words over those delicate lips. They made the same faces and spoke with the same elegance, and it made him feel simultaneously comforted and uncomfortable. He wished nothing more than for his sister to be like Katara, who managed to trust and mend him even after everything they’d been through, but instead she was throwing her head back and screaming, the chains on her wrists hot enough to make her skin blister. He could smell the burning flesh, but maybe that was his own, soothed beneath soft and wet hands.
Katara sighed, shaking her head softly after a moment. “I should be thanking you. You saved my life, and nearly got yourself killed. Look at yourself.” Her lips pursed momentarily, softly slipping her hand away again to see the burn, which would surely scar much like the scar on his left side. She could only imagine what it felt like, the festering - the festering of wounds untouched by enemies but laid by family. His father, and his sister, and he had to live with their marks on his body for the rest of his life. She tried to imagine it, but could only sympathize. She simply could not picture Sokka doing that to her, let alone her father. Her mother. She could not empathize, despite her best efforts, and almost thanked herself for that fact. “.. Really. Thank you. I don’t know if you really understand the weight of what you’ve done for me in this year .. I owe you so much.”
At this, both children fell silent, and listened to the thick, muffled silence - of the airships in the distance, Azula’s fret, and the whistle of the distant comet. Both were suspended in blissful silence, and soon enough, their hands met and she helped him to his feet, which were weak and tired, and caused their forms to be leaning in a joint silhouette. At first, Katara was surprised that he didn’t respond or refute - with his self-deprecating, humble disposition, he rarely truly accepted praise. But here, he kept to his silence, and she appreciated it. Perhaps he was finally understanding the gravity of his doings, finally taking it within himself to understand that he had done great things, and that he did indeed deserve everything he’d worked so damn hard to gain. And so, they reveled in the silence, hobbling into the palace, and leaving the princess, the pillars, and the comet to their crumbling.